Russia Plans to Fight Drugs at Home with Jobs in Central Asia

Russia’s drug tsar has come up with a pro-active and novel plan for combatting drug trafficking to his country via Central Asia that sees Russia buying up businesses and creating jobs in the region.

Moscow will initially spend about $64 million on the plan, which involves creating a Russian Corporation for Cooperation with Central Asian Countries, Viktor Ivanov told the Kommersant daily on April 26. Ivanov, the head of the Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), had finally gotten some government approval for his 2-billion-ruble proposal, which he believes will help reduce the staggering number of drug-related deaths in Russia.

“Every year at least 100,000 young people die [due to drug use] in Russia. Thanks to the program, this figure could in five years be reduced by 25-30 percent. How can this be measured in money?" Kommersant quoted Ivanov as saying. (Other officials have said heroin kills 30,000 Russians each year.)

Central Asia lies on a major narcotics-trafficking route out of Afghanistan. Approximately 30 percent of Afghan opiates transit the region – especially Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – according to the UN, most of them en route to Russia, fueling crime, corruption, and HIV along the old Silk Road. Ivanov estimated the plan would save Russia an amount equivalent to about 1.3 percent of GDP, which he said is “annually lost due to drug-trafficking,” and provoke a “sharp decline” in crime – 32-33 percent. He gave no details on either prognosis.

Previous Kremlin-backed efforts to combat drugs in Central Asia, mostly focused on border security and law enforcement, have achieved limited results, and have sometimes appeared to lack political will. In describing the new initiative, Ivanov said using police methods alone “doesn’t give the necessary results.”

This time, Kommersant says, the project envisions an economic-development approach based on UN principles. Citing the minutes of a closed meeting by a government commission, the paper explains the plan – one that seems in keeping with the Kremlin’s project of extending Russian economic influence in the region by various means, including the Moscow-led Customs Union.

A government commission has been tasked with developing a plan to create the corporation (presumably in the form of an open joint-stock company) with the participation of Vnesheconombank. Russia’s Finance Ministry and Economic Development Ministry have been tasked with preparing proposals on sources of financing for the corporation and on "priority economic projects to be implemented in the countries of Central Asia." Mr. Ivanov told Kommersant that in its initial stage the corporation will cost the Russian budget 2 billion rubles.

The head of the FSKN had proposed the creation of such an organization early last year. … However, the idea, according to Kommersant’s information, was met with resistance from a number of relevant ministries, especially the Finance Ministry. Now it seems to be moving forward.

As Mr. Ivanov himself assured Kommersant yesterday, the program will allow Russia – in addition to "engaging citizens of Central Asian states in positive activities through the creation of new jobs and infrastructure that will lift up the economy of the region’s countries" – also to strengthen its [Russia’s] influence there. It has been suggested that the corporation focus on acquiring shares in Central Asian hydropower plants, poultry producers, and “high-tech” industrial assembly.

Ivanov adds it will be “easy” to create about 30,000 jobs in the region through this investment. Yet Russia and the Central Asian states all rank among the most corrupt in the world. So it is easy to imagine that some of that $64 million will trickle away instead of trickling down.

Russia Plans to Fight Drugs at Home with Jobs in Central Asia

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